‘We needed this’: Jews of color in U.S. to gather for first-ever ‘Shabbaton’ conference – NorthJersey.com

Posted By on May 10, 2021

Amitai-Aviv Mcelveen, at Temple Beth El in Vorhees, NJ, talked about the unique experiences he has encountered due to racism and anti Semitism. NorthJersey.com

It seems as if every Jew of Color has "that story."

Sometimes it happens at temple, where otherworshippersinquire why they are there, said HarrietteWimms an African-American psychologist from Baltimore. "Or they assume you're the nurse of a congregant or a member of the kitchen or cleaning crew."

Often, there's theassumption that aperson of color couldn't possibly be Jewish from birth. "Some people ask how you became Jewish, which is rarely asked of white-skinned Jews," she said.

Wimms, 53, an advocate for Jewish diversity, hopes to offeran oasis from such experiencesat thefirst annualJewish People of Color National Shabbaton, which will be held virtually on May 14-16. More than200 people from around the country have signed up to attend.

Harriette Wimms(Photo: Harriette Wimms)

The Hebrew term "shabbaton" refers to a retreat or celebration held on the Jewish Sabbath. Theprogram will run from Friday afternoon throughSunday afternoon.

The Shabbaton will be a gathering for Jews of color and their families, as well asallies from around the nation. Programs will be aimed at educationand fosteringresilience and will be open to Jews of all denominations, said Wimms, who also runstheJews of Color Mishpacha Project, which offers workshops and gathering spaces for the community.("Mishpacha" means family in Hebrew.)

With antisemitic attacks near historic highs and police shootings of unarmed Black people roiling the country, it's been a particularly stressful year for Jews of color, said organizers. Theyoften feel stuck between two intersecting strains of hatred.

"The Shabbaton is cultivating supportive spaces for members of the JOC community," said Heather Miller, the president of one of the event's sponsors, the Flatbush & Shaare Torah Jewish Center in Brooklyn. "It's a place for usto lean on each other and learn from each other. It's going to be amoving experience just to be with so many people who immediately understand."

Lauren Rudin of Cherry Hill was immediately enthusiastic about the Shabbaton after hearing about it through Facebook.

"I'm looking forward to attending what will be, for me, the first event of this kind, where I am worshiping with people who look like me and share similar experiencesand backgrounds," saidRudin, a supportive services navigator for the South Jersey Jewish Abilities Alliance. "I'm also looking forward to learning more about the people who make up the beautiful tapestry that is Judaism,"

More: Subjected to anti-Semitism and racism, Jews of color feel 'stuck in the middle'

'Good Jewish boy' or 'infiltrator'?: NJ man spent years as fake rabbi, Israeli groups say

Topics on the agenda include how to be a racially conscious multiracialfamily, fueling the spiritual flame through Torah and community, and Black Jewish fatherhood.

Speakers will include Ilana Kaufman, executive directorof the Jews of Color Initiativein San Francisco;Yoshi Silverstein of Cleveland, a Chinese-American Jew andfounder of Mitsui Collective, a nonprofit focused onJewish practice and multiracialjustice; and Sabrina Sojourner of Rockville, Maryland, a Jewish educatorfor two decades.

Estimates of America's nonwhite Jewish population vary. Whether due to conversion, adoption, intermarriage, or increasingrecognition of existing diversity, their numbers appear to be rising, particularly in citieswith significantJewish populations, such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami, experts say.

Population surveys have been a topic of debate. While a 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 6% of adult American Jews define themselvesas people of color, researchersfor the American Jewish Population Project at Brandeis University said that number is closer to 11%.

And a 2019 study commissioned bythe Jews of Color Initiative in Berkeley, California,which also included children in its total, found that Jews of Color represent approximately 12-15 % of theAmerican Jewish population, or about 1million of the 7.2 million Jews in the United States.

The studies used different methods and criteria to tally their numbers, hence the different outcomes.

There's been a growing number of JOC-led and focused organizations in recent years, said Kaufman, one of the scheduled speakers. She counts more than 70 organizations, Facebook groups andinfluencers geared towards Jews of Color.

Ilana Kaufman (Photo credit Aviva Levine)(Photo: Aviva Levine)

Kaufman hopes the event will be uplifting. "Shabbatonim are core experiences that help build and strengthen Jewish life and community. Its sacred time and space to get spiritually close and communally connected."

"For so long the only options have been for Jews of Color to participate in shabbatonim as the minority," she said, adding, "that can take away from the purpose and experience. [It] can burden rather than provide lift."

Wimms said her own Jewish journey began a decade ago while attending a 9/11 memorial service at a conservativeJewish congregation in Baltimore. Her son, Harrison, who was 7at the time, picked up a prayer book, and a woman admonished him tobe careful with the sacred text. Thewoman clearly had rebukedhim because of his skin color, Wimms recalled.

The rabbi at the synagoguecontacted Wimmsto apologize and they ended up talking in depthabout Judaism. The following year, they began studying together. Wimms converted three years later and celebrated an adult bat mitzvahin thecongregation two years after that.

"It will be beautiful and empowering to be in a place where Jews of Colorare leading," Wimms said of the Shabbaton.

"People have already told me, `We needed this for so long.'"

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives,please subscribe or activate your digital account today.



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'We needed this': Jews of color in U.S. to gather for first-ever 'Shabbaton' conference - NorthJersey.com

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